Friday, November 4, 2016

Movie Review #513: "The Handmaiden" (2016)

Movie"The Handmaiden" / Ah-ga-ssi"
Director: Park Chan-wook
Rating: NR
Running Time: 2 hours, 24 minutes
Image Source
Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo ha) is a son of a Korean farmer posing as a Japanese gentleman. He convinces a thief named Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) to pose as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress named Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) so she can help convince Lady Hideko to marry Count Fujiwara in order to steal her fortune.

"The Handmaiden" is directed by Park Chan-wook, who is best known for his films "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and "Old Boy." It stars Kim Tae-ri as Sook-Hee, a thief and pickpocket who gets an offer from a man named Count Fujiwara, played by Jung-woo Ha, the son of a Korean farmer and art forger posing as a Japanese gentleman. He wants Sook-Hee to pose as a handmaiden to Lady Hideko, played by Min-hee Kim, a wealthy heiress poised to inherit a large sum of money. Lady Hideko lives a very reclusive, secluded life with her uncle Kouzuki, played by Jin-woong Jo. Fujiwara wants Sook-Hee to earn Lady Hideko's trust and urge her to marry him. Once Sook-Hee takes the job, she starts to grow close to Lady Hideko and begins to second guess the plan.

For those who know of Park Chan-wook's work, you may know what to expect from "The Handmaiden." For those who don't, he often deals in the taboo and uses many instances of graphic sex and violence. This movie is no different, and though the sex is often graphic, it never feels gratuitous. Park Chan-wook is a master of the forbidden, and this is where he excels as a storyteller. His visuals style is immersive and plentiful in this romantic dramatic mystery thriller with many moving parts. It is broken up into three sections, all of which take place during Japan's occupation of Korea in the 1930's. Both parts one and two cover much of the same time period from different perspectives, while part three offers a climax and conclusion. At the end of part one, we were still quite confused as to what was going on, but rest assured, as the other parts play out, it all begins to come together in a tightly constructed narrative that will keep you thoroughly engaged and guessing every second until the credits roll. Everything that happens within the context of this story seems very organic and fits together nicely. Kim Tae-ri, Min-hee Kim, and Jung-woo Ha all put on captivating, believable, wonderful performances. Chan-wook Park creates some vividly beautiful visuals throughout the film with an amazing use of dark and bright color, which come together to create a vast and lurid display of offbeat but always stunning images. The sets and architecture are also quite gorgeous, and it is clear that everyone involved took a painstaking amount of effort to get the setting just right.

If it seems like we are being purposefully vague, we are. The less you know about this film, the better, so don't read too much it before viewing it if possibly. This stunning feature may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is one we won't soon forget. "The Handmaiden" drips in beauty, scandal, deceit, and culture, and with such a talented director in Park Chan-wook, it is gorgeous and bizarre, and effectively, masterfully crafted.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 94%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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